Transcript: Marilyn McMahon on the class action lawsuit challenging prolonged solitary confinement at California’s Pelican Bay prison

Remarks by Marilyn McMahon, Executive Director of California Prison Focus, on the Ruiz v. Brown class action lawsuit challenging California’s use of prolonged solitary confinement in state prisons 

(Telephone press briefing held on May 31, 2012)

“I want to tell you the reality of living in the Pelican Bay SHU (Secure Housing Unit).

“You sleep on a concrete slab with a mattress that’s so lumpy you have to choose which part of your body will have padding beneath it for the night. If you’re tall, the mattress extends only to three-quarters of your legs. The sheet and two thin blankets may not be enough to keep you warm. The cells near the exterior walls are cold all winter.

Read more: Lawsuit challenges California’s prolonged solitary confinement policy

“Several times during the night, the loud clanging of chains and the slamming of steel doors echo down the hall, waking you repeatedly.

“In the morning, you open your eyes to the gray wall of a cell just big enough for a bed, concrete stool and desk, and metal toilet and sink. There is no window.

“In front of the cell is heavy-gated steel perforated by dime-sized holes.

“To see anything beyond your four walls, you look to this grid of small holes and you see the hallway wall.

“Everything around you is concrete and steel.

“There’s no natural light and no color.

“You’re alone here all day, all night, everyday.

“You get no phone calls home.

“Visits are rare at best – through a plexiglass if they have them.

“This is an alone unlike other aloneness. You may hear no live human voice except a guard shouting occasionally. You have no conversation, no normal human interactions.

“One prisoner letter described how he reacted when he once found a spider in his cell. He was delighted to have company. He named the spider. He talked to it.

“After a few years, a lot of the prisoners experience the sensations of the walls closing in on them.

“Being so closed in, cut off, and alone would be unbearable to most of us. And for the plaintiffs of this lawsuit it has no end and essentially no way out of the SHU.

“And how did they get there?

“You might think they’re in the SHU because their crimes were especially violent.

“But it was not their crime that got them there. No one was ever sentenced to the SHU.

“SHU placement is called administrative, and it’s said to be for the security of the prison. There is no judge involved. No lawyers defending against the charges. And the prisoner doesn’t even get to see all the evidence against him.

“So he must have committed violent or egregious misconduct while in prison, right?


“The prisoner need not have done anything violent or even engage in any gang-related activity.

“Often, they’re put in the SHU for mere association with a gang member, who of course could be their cousin or childhood friend who ended up in the same prison.

“And the association could be someone else writing their name on a list of names that has been found in some other person’s cell.

“The so-called gang activity that puts them in the SHU: The signing of a birthday card that some gang member also signed. Possessing black power literature. Or a St. Patrick’s day card. Or having the wrong tattoo. That is enough to be entombed for life – for the rest of one’s life.

“These policies and practices must end.”




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2 Comments on “Transcript: Marilyn McMahon on the class action lawsuit challenging prolonged solitary confinement at California’s Pelican Bay prison

  1. Pingback: Transcript: Marie Levin on the class action lawsuit against prolonged solitary confinement at California's Pelican Bay prison | What The Folly?!

  2. Pingback: Lawsuit challenges California's prolonged solitary confinement policy | What The Folly?!

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